Smart Homes Coming, at a Gradual Pace

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The promise of smarter homes continued to make noise at this year’s CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics show. But nothing really wowed me. You might call this an incremental show – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Keep in mind that CES is huge, with 1.86 million net square feet of space used by exhibitors, record crowds (upwards of 153,000 people) and a record number (3,100-plus) of exhibitors showing off their newest gear. Among the products, companies and people I saw, these stood out for various reasons:

Devices

Nest (Nest Labs): It’s hard not to like what Nest Labs has done to the lowly thermostat. The much-publicized Nest device combines the simplicity of an iPod (the company founders, in fact, helped develop Apple’s iPod) with the ability to “learn” how you use energy to heat and cool your home. The device then aims to help consumers reduce energy consumption and thereby lower their costs. Company co-founder Matt Rogers told me the catalyst for Nest was to help people “save a ton” on energy consumption with an easy-to-use device. After launching online last November, Nest Labs quickly ran out of stock. Orders are wait-listed now as manufacturing ramps up.

Belkin’s WeMo Home Control Switch: This Wi-Fi connected switch sits between a wall outlet and small home appliances. You turn it on or off through an app on iOS, Apple’s mobile platform, and the switch can be paired with a motion sensor for more functionality. Availability of these WeMo devices is expected in the summer of 2012. Other related devices – such as garage door openers, door locks, and baby monitors – are expected to join the WeMo family as well.

Retail

AlertMe and Lowes’s: UK-based AlertMe has partnered with home improvement chain Lowe’s to provide a cloud-based home management system. AlertMe will be the platform behind Lowe’s new Iris service for North America, which enables consumers to monitor and control their homes through a smartphone or a computer. The Iris service will launch in mid-2012. AlertMe CEO Mary Turner told me the goal is to provide consumers with not only an intelligent digital dashboard for their homes, but also the ability to put their homes on “cruise control.”

Technology

ZigBee, Z-Wave, HomePlug, UPnP, HomeGrid (G.hn): Many of the leading networking technology groups were present at CES, as expected, each vying for greater traction in the connected home space. While each has something to offer, there isn’t room here to dissect them in detail. Suffice to say, many vendors have interesting products on the market or coming soon based on these technologies, which is very encouraging. But it all makes for a cluttered landscape in consumers’ minds, and that slows the emergence of mainstream solutions.

Throughout the show, I heard people say, essentially, “The technology is available for smarter homes – it just needs to be deployed.” For that to happen, I was told, both utility operators and consumers need more education, which while true, means a slower rate of adoption. Sure sounds incremental to me – and should be expected, given the sluggish economy and the mood of consumers to move cautiously at the outset of trends that involve something as complex as the modern, connected home.

Article by Neil Strother, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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